Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer- The Freshman

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 4
Episode: “ The Freshman” (October 5, 1999)

Synopsis by Jason Henderson

Buffy the Vampire Slayer goes to college-- can she survive the experience?

Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Oz: Seth Green
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Prof. Maggie Walsh: Lindsay Crouse
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head


We open in a very familiar place, with Buffy and Willow waiting for a new vampire to rise and passing the time by looking over their college course catalogs (they're going to be attending the heretofore nonexistent UC Sunnydale.) Buffy, it appears, has wasted an awful lot of time, and is left with a dearth of decent courses to pick from. On the positive side, Buffy and Willow are going to be taking psych together. They chatter excitedly about their upcoming freshman year (for instance, Buffy's going to have to resume using a secret identity, but she promises that all this college stuff cannot "take the edge off my slaying.") A vampire rises behind them, sees they are in fact on a vampire stake-out, and wanders away without the two ever noticing.

Act I
Buffy arrives at UCSD and feels immediately overwhelmed by the thousands of students who all seem to know where they're going, except. It doesn't get any better when Willow appears, doing far better. As a matter of fact, this place is Willow Heaven, especially the gargantuan library. All Buffy can do is remark that it would be neat if Giles could be librarian there.
The next gauntlet to run is the bookstore, where Buffy immediately drops two heavy books on the head of a cute guy. But whereas once upon a time she would've been able to wrap this guy around for her finger, this is college, where the guy, a Teaching Assistant, immediately ignores her and begins to pick up on Willow.
At her dorm, Buffy has a roommate, the short-haired, utterly normal Kathy, who appears to be really nice, but horrifies Buffy by hanging a huge Celine Dion poster on the wall. And she snores.
It gets worse. Buffy goes into a pop-culture class, hoping to register for it afterwards, and is horribly humiliated by the Professor, who chooses to make some sort of sadistic example of her.
Finally, she gets to Professor Walsh's psychology class, which Willow and cute TA are taking. Professor Walsh, who says she goes by either Maggie or "the evil bitch monster of death," will be tough, but at least doesn't scream.
That night, Buffy meets Eddy, a Nice Guy. He's taking the same psychology course that apparently everyone else is, and they vow to speak again. But the moment she's gone, he's killed by college vampires.

Act II
The UCSD vampires have a neat gimmick: once they kill a kid, they empty out his dorm room, take all this stuff, and leave and note about “not being able to take the pressure.” But Buffy knows that Eddy has not actually left, because when she searches his room, she finds his copy of Of Human Bondage, which Eddy referred to as his "security blanket."
Buffy goes back to Giles’ place for advice and finds a lovely young British woman, Olivia, wandering the house in one of Giles asserts, and Giles himself in a bathrobe. When Buffy tells Giles she could use some help, Giles hears her synopsis (student missing, could be vampires), and says that she needs to learn to rely on herself more.
That night, in one of the many gigantic expanses of poorly lit foliage on the campus of UCSD, Buffy meets and kills the vampirized Eddy. But she's walked right into a confrontation with the blond sorority vampire I’ll call “Yellow,” and the unbelievable happens: Yellow brutally and quickly kicks Buffy's ass.

While the vampires gloat, Buffy refuses to go to her friends, who seem to be having too much fun for her to interrupt them with vampire hunting. She goes home and finds that her mom has filled her room packing rates (temporarily, she is assured) and leaves once more.
At her dorm room, the vampires have removed all of her stuff and left one of those "I'm getting out of here" notes.
Finally, Buffy finds her way to her high school hangout, the Bronze where she runs into none other than Xander, her old high school friend. Xander, who was supposed to be on cross-country trip to America, ran out of money and is now home, broke and paying rent to his parents. Xander listens to her story and tells her that whatever she feels like, she should know that she is still his hero. He decides to help her find the UCSD vampires.
At the UCSD library, Buffy and Xander discover that these vampires have been killing freshmen for nearly 20 years, and are holed up in a conveniently abandoned fraternity house. They confirm this by spying on the vampires, and after Xander retreats to go get Buffy's weapons, Buffy falls through the skylight and straight into the vampires’ laps.

Act IV
Buffy is already getting soundly thrashed once again by the time Xander finds Oz and Willow. The three hurry to her rescue, but Buffy manages to do well even without her weapons, and by the time the gang arrives, she has dispatched the vampires. The only thing left is for Giles, also suddenly succumbing to a change of heart, to come running up with his own set of weapons. And so begins a new life for the Slayer Gang.
Not far away, a vampire wanders the trees suddenly he is shut down with a TASER stunned weapon. Out of the trees stepped what appear to be paramilitary vampire hunters.

Really, all this episode does is transition Buffy into her new surroundings. Thus the story is very simple, because it has to accomplish only one thing: just as she did last season, Buffy must begin far from where she needs to be, and through personal strength, she must get there.
Of course just as the first three seasons of Buffy the Vampires Slayer established the show as a working allegory for the high school experience, the fourth season premiere of Buffy marches onto new but logical ground: this is the college experience, and luckily there's just as much opportunity for horrible allegory here as there was in high school.
I think almost anybody can relate to what Buffy goes through in this episode. She finished high school at the absolute top of her game: lauded by her classmates as a hero and protector, she now comes to the University and finds that not only is she no one, but she's in over her head. Sarah Michelle Keller is convincing as a girl who walks onto a campus teeming with college students like she's one of those doomed soldiers at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan.
And of course, since Buffy TVS acts out all of its anxieties, this means that at least one professor screams at her, one cute boy refers to her as "Willow's friend," and one fairly bush league vampire gives her a black eye.
I can already tell that Joss Whedon has as much of a feel for the inherent weirdness and even inanity of college as he did for high school. One of the funniest moments in the whole episode is when we see the vampires keeping a running tally on the posters they’ve stolen from the freshmen they kill. So far, Gustav Klimt's “The Kiss” is beating out Monet. "Freshman," the head vampire says. "They're so predictable." This is just wonderful.

Final note: Professor Walsh is played by none other than Lindsay Crouse, the fine, hypnotic actress who starred in David Mamet's House of Games. Obviously, she's going to play a big part, and Buffy could not have done better.


Willow: Anyway, Professor Walsh, she's great, she’s supposed to be, like, world renowned.
Buffy: How you get to be renowned? I mean, like, do you have to be nowned the first?
Willow: Yes. First there's a painful nowning process.

“It's like this force, this penetrating force, and I can just feel my mind opening up, you know, and this place just thrusts into it and spurts knowledge into it. Sorry, that sentence ended up a different place from where it started.”
--Willow, on education

Xander: Buffy, this is all about fear. It's understandable, but you can't let it control you. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to anger. Wait -- hold on. Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side. Wait, no. First you get the women. Then you get the money. Then you -- OK, can we forget that?
Buffy: Thanks for the dadaesque pep talk. I feel much more abstract now.

“Does Buffy have a history of emotional problems? Because on my request form, I was pretty specific about a stable nonsmoker.”
--Kathy the room-mate, whose introduction to the world of Buffy has just begun.

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